The big picture of Finnish society in the twenty-first century

by , under Enrique

By Enrique Tessieri

One of the biggest unanswered questions when debating our ever-culturally diverse society in Finland during this century is trying to make out what the big picture is. Do we have to search faraway to forge that big picture or are the answers right under our noses?  

If you ask anti-immigration groups what that big picture is they will quickly cite one-way integration, or assimilation (check the Perussuomalaiset party’s Nuiva Manifesto). On the opposite side of the debate you will hear a completely different answer promoting “tolerance,” or suvaitsevaisuus.

One of the pitfalls of both positions is that they lack a comprehensive view of the big picture. Even if anti-immigration groups are fighting tooth and nail to keep Finnish society “white,” they don’t offer any solutions on how to include those that are visible immigrants and minorities. Tolerance is a very general term and could not stand alone as an effective integration model.

Another key stumbling block in the search for a model is that we haven’t asked the opinion of immigrants and Finns with international backgrounds how they envision our society in this century.

When looking at different integration models we should find one that works best for us.

It is a good matter that Finland looks at Canada as one successful integration model for immigrants. It should be noted, however, that the Canadian model of multiculturalism is totally different from what some anti-immigration groups define it to be.

In Canada it is a model that promotes inclusion of immigrants whereas for anti-immigration groups in Europe it is an immigration policy that permits Muslims and Africans from moving to the region.

If you ever get into a debate with a member of the PS who belongs to the Suomen Sisu association, you should ask that person to define multiculturalism. Is he or she talking about the Canadian social policy that came about in the 1970s or is it an immigration policy that allows Muslims and non-EU nationals from moving to our country?

The first big mistake that anti-immigration groups in Finland and elsewhere make is claiming that we are a multicultural nation. Nowhere in our most important laws like the Constitution is that adjective “multicultural” mentioned. It does not even appear in the Non-Discrimination Act (Yhteenvertaisuuslaki).

What kind of a society are we then? We use a lot the term “multiculturalism” but what does it actually mean? Does it mean cultural diverse society?

If a term like multiculturalism can mean so many things to different groups, this explains in part why we are still in the dark about that big picture of what kind of society we want to build in this century.

The formula and building tools for our society are not in Canada per se but right under our noses. We could have never built such a well-functioning society that is at peace with itself after a very rocky first quarter of a century of our independence without key values such as social equality, or tasa-arvo.

To that key value, we should add other ones like mutual acceptance, respect and equal opportunities.

If we keep to these values, or those that we use to include all members of our society and apply it to others as well, we will be on the right path.

Thus the big picture of our society in this century should be inclusion through mutual acceptance and respect.

  1. GWH

    Traditionally it has been evident that finland has 4 different “cultures”. Finnish, Swedish, Saami and Romaani. In a sense it is sort of multicultural since inception at 1917. The minority rights have been quite well defined, romaani and saami having their own council systems.

  2. Desertgnu


    Valid point.But needs reviewing. Saami and Romaani people are indigenous peoples, members of the so-called ”4th world” – minority peoples within a country or society. Current movement of people – though by no means new, is quite different. One could point to the ”Swedish Party” as another example, but organising a political representative party seems far-fetched. Still, Canada’s ”success” is due, it is said, to its ”patchwork quilt” policy: no forced assimilation into some ”big basket”, as opposed to the USA ”melting pot” advocates, much as GB might promote the ”right” of being different, against France’s Liberty, Equality Fraternity, currently defined, among other things, as forced removal of hijab, or headscarf, and abaya in public buildings and schools.